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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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PREACHING . In the OT ‘preaching’ is referred to explicitly in the case of Jonah’s preaching in Nineveh ( Jonah 3:2 ). The word here used means strictly ‘proclamation,’ and corresponds to the NT word used with reference to our Lord ‘proclaiming’ (as a herald) the advent of the Kingdom of God ( e.g. Matthew 4:17 ), which, in its initial stages, was closely associated with the preaching of John the Baptist (cf. Matthew 3:1-2 ). Christian preaching is often described in the NT as a declaration of ‘glad tidings’ (‘evangel,’ ‘gospel’). Strictly, the ‘proclamation’ ought to be distinguished from the ‘teaching’ that followed on it. But in its more extended application ‘preaching’ covers all instruction in religious matters of a homiletlcal character, and especially such as is associated with public worship .

The prophetic preaching hardly falls within this category. The prophets undoubtedly as a rule spoke their discourses (before writing them down). But these allocutions were special in character, and formed no regular part of the public worship.

The preaching of John the Baptist and of Jesus was largely prophetic in character the gospel may be described as a ‘revival of the spirit of prophecy’ but nevertheless it possessed some affinities with the synagogue preaching, which had become an institution of worship, though in many respects in marked contrast with and independent of it (our Lord constantly addressed the multitudes in the open air).

Preaching as a regular part of the service of public worship was a comparatively late development. Its real beginning can be traced back to the custom inaugurated by Ezra of reading a part of the ‘Law’ or ‘Torah’ at the Sabbath-day assemblages of the people, and on other holy days. On these occasions the lesson from the Law was read in the original Hebrew, and explained in the form of a paraphrase in the Aramaic vernacular by a methurgemân (dragoman) or interpreter. Such translations were called Targums. It was from this practice that preaching in the synagogue was developed probably as early as the 4th cent. b.c. (cf. Acts 15:21 ). Thus originally the sermon was essentially an exposition (of a legal kind) of some part of Scripture. Two famous teachers of the Law of the 1st cent. b.c. are styled darshanim (‘preachers,’ Pes. 70b), though they were primarily expounders of the Law on its strictly legalistic side. But in process of time the sermon assumed to a large extent a purely edifying character; it utilized the tale, parable, allegory, in enforcing the lessons of morality and religion, and developed truly homiletical features, without, however, losing its Scriptural colouring.

By NT times preaching had evidently become an integral part of the ordinary synagogue service, and in this way it became one of the chief instruments in the propagation of the ‘new teaching.’ Our Lord constantly ‘taught in the synagogues’ (cf. Matthew 4:23 , Mark 1:21; Mark 6:2 , John 6:59; John 18:20 ). St. Luke ( Luke 4:16 f.) has preserved a compressed account of one such sermon, while in Acts ( Acts 13:14-41 ) a fuller report of an exhortation by the great missionary Apostie, delivered in a synagogue, is set forth.

Our Lord’s teaching, and that of the Apostles which He inspired, were marked by a freshness, a spontaneity and power which filled their hearers, accustomed as they were to the more set and laborious exhortations of the scribes, with the utmost surprise. But original as they were in substance, these addresses were still Semitic in form, and we must guard against importing our Western ideas of rhetoric into what were essentially Eastern homilies. The differences between the two are fundamental. While the Western develops a main and principal thought or theme through its logical subdivisions, and usually in a more or less abstract way, the Eastern adds point to point, theme to theme, often in striking antithesis, and strives to employ concrete illustrations and embodiments either figurative or parabolic of the thought. The ‘Sermon on the Mount’ (though its form in the First Gospel is doubtless an extended one) is an excellent illustration of Eastern method in some of these respects. The following example of an old Rabbinic address, based on the words ‘He hath clothed me with garments of salvation,’ which come from the chapter in Isaiah (61) from which Jesus took His text in His address in the synagogue at Nazareth, will illustrate the character of contemporary Jewish sermons:

Seven garments the Holy One blessed be He has put on, and will put on from the time the world was created until the hour when He will punish the whole of wicked Edom (= the Roman Empire). When He created the world, He clothed Himself in honour and majesty, as it is said (Psalms 104:1 ): “Thou art clothed in honour and majesty.” Whenever He forgave Israel’s sins He clothed Himself in white; for we read ( Daniel 7:9 ): “His garment was white as snow.” When He punishes the people of the world, He puts on the garment of vengeance, as it is said ( Isaiah 59:17 ): “He put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloak.” The sixth garment He will put on when the Messiah comes; then He will clothe Himself in a garment of righteousness, for it is said: “And he puts on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head.” The seventh garment He will put on when He punishes Edom; then He will clothe Himself in Adom i.e. red; for it is said ( Isaiah 63:2 ): “Wherefore art thou red in thine apparel?” But the garment which He will put upon the Messiah, this will shine far, from one end of the earth to the other; for it is said ( Isaiah 61:10 ): “As a bridegroom decketh himself with a garland.” And the Israelites will partake of His light, and will speak:

“Blessed is the hour when the Messiah shall come!

Blessed the womb out of which He shall come!

Blessed His contemporaries who are eye-witnesses!

Blessed the eye that is honoured with a sight of Him!

For the opening of His lips is blessing and peace;

His speech is a moving or the spirits;

The thoughts of His heart are confidence and cheerfulness;

The speech of His tongue is pardon and forgiveness;

His prayer is the sweet incense of offerings;

His petitions are holiness and purity.

Oh, how blessed is Israel for whom such has been prepared!”

For it is said (Psalms 31:19 ): “How great is thy goodness which thou hast laid up for them that fear thee!” ’

Several specimens of the Apostolic preaching are given in the Acts (cf. chs. 2, 7, 8 etc.). To the Jews the Apostles preached the Messiahship of Jesus, basing their appeal mainly on two arguments, viz. (1) the resurrection, and (2) OT prophecy. On this depended the forgiveness of sins, and salvation through Christ. These reports, abbreviated as they obviously are, reveal their essential genuineness by their undeveloped theology ( e.g. of the Atonement).

Preaching long continued free and spontaneous among the Christian societies, being exercised in the assembly by private members who possessed the gift of prophecy (cf. e.g. 1 Corinthians 14:31 ), though, of course, the Apostles, while they were alive, would naturally assume, and be accorded, the chief place in this, as in other respects.

G. H. Box.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Preaching'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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